The Power of the Network

October 26, 2017

by Matt Bertasso, Director Compass Academy

Driving in on CA-121, a route I have taken many times before, we pull into Napa, CA. At first glance it seems pretty typical.  Steady traffic. Cool fall weather. Then I see signs thanking first responders, an electronic board warning of road closures ahead. A fire engine passes us. Then another, and another, 17 in total. And then, there is the smell. There is no question, a fire has been, and is, burning near by.

Twenty-one years ago, a high school with a different teaching model opened in Napa, New Technology High (NTH).  Eight years ago, I was introduced to this model and 5 years ago I was hired as the founding director of a New Tech high school in Idaho Falls, Compass Academy. Our connection runs deep.  So deep that when I heard about the wild fires in California, I knew something had to be done for a school that has given me, my staff and students, my school, and district so much. We felt a call to action.

Compass Academy staff and students.

Two facilitators, 4 students, and a director, we were met at NTH by Riley Johnson, the director. Riley welcomes us like old friends. We get to tour the school.  We see classrooms, tables and chairs, but to us, it is empty without students.   Air quality and fire danger has kept students out of school for 2 weeks. My students quickly realize how connected we are.  They comment, ”This is like Compass.”  Riley uses familiar terminology like ”facilitator,” “collaboration,” “integrated courses,” “cyber cafe,” “workshops,” and “projects.”  The school looks and feels like so many other New Tech high schools around the country. My facilitators are taking pictures of ideas they can bring back and implement. The connections come quickly and deeply.

Riley Johnson, Matt Bertasso, and Compass Academy staff and students.

Our tour is interrupted by the reality of our visit.  First a text message.

“What time will you return the truck?”

“Today, in a couple hours.”

“Great! The Red Cross needs it.”

The sound of a helicopter is heard over head. Krista Clark, from the New Tech Network, explains this has been the norm for the past two weeks. The smell of smoke is strong in the project design room and we realize, it’s time to get to work.

Compass Academy Donations

I open the back of our 26 foot rental truck. Riley and Krista are visually amazed by the generosity of the students and staff at Compass Academy and the people of Idaho Falls. We begin to unload the truck.  On Sunday a community store will open and those affected by the fires will be able to “shop” for the things they need. Until then, all the donations will be stored in the weight room.

Box after box, armful after armful we move it all into NTH.  We add a hand truck to speed things up. Then a large cart. Now we are making progress.

The maintenance workers for Napa Valley Unified School District are mulling around.  They too are carrying large cardboard boxes.  Instead of food and toiletries, like our boxes, their’s have air filters. Every air filter in the district has to be changed, all 9,000. They put down their boxes and join us. Suddenly the work is moving, not only quicker, but smoother.

We move all the donations to the weight room. Thousands of cans and boxes of food. Thousands of toiletries. Hundreds of blankets. All donated by Idaho Falls residents to help people that live 800 miles away.

The students are smiling. We are tired, a little sweaty, and yet totally thrilled.

I return the truck.  The lady meets me at the door and quickly takes the keys to get it ready.  She thanks  me first for what we brought to her community and then for returning the truck so quickly.  She tells me, “It is needed.”

We all gather for lunch at the New Tech Network headquarters. The “Power of the Network” is evident.  We share ideas, practice, stories, and advice. We make a short video for a project going on in Sioux Falls, SD. Familiar faces pop in to say thank you.  Pictures are taken, specific future plans are made and not just “let’s get together.” For 8 years I have been connected to the New Tech Network through pedagogy, educational philosophy, and conferences.  For years I have “taken” from the network.  Ideas, practices, instructional models, rubrics, and much more.  This week we gave back.

The 7 of us represent an entire school district and community. The Idaho Falls School District 91 owes so much to the New Tech Network.  Our current mission and vision statement, the realignment of middle schools and high school, the creation of Compass Academy, the adoption of a learning management system, and so many pedagogical practices, all stem from a visit by our board of trustees to New Technology High in Napa, CA back in 2011. We are grateful for everything the network has done for us and only hope this small gesture shows our appreciation.

Unprecedented wind gusts, downed power lines, dry brush all aligned to create the fire storm that killed  30+ people, destroyed thousands of homes, and cost over a billion dollars. Sometimes that perfect storm enters our classroom and projects fail, students struggle, and workshops fall apart.  Whether a natural disaster or a disastrous project, our network can come together, support one another, and find solutions. My hope is that we can reach out to help one another not only in times of major disasters but also to improve and strengthen projects, workshops, activities, culture and practice. Let us tap into “The Power of the Network” regardless of the enormity of the disaster.

Thank you Napa. We hope and pray for a speedy recovery!

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